Swift and Voltaire

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Jonathan SwiftAt the end of the 1720s Jonathan Swift was at the height of his literary powers, he had published the best-selling Travels into several remote nations of the world by Lemuel Gulliver (Gulliver’s travels) in 1726, which had run to many editions by the end of the decade, he had written extensively on Irish affairs and was a household name in Dublin and London. Swift was well connected in the literary and social world, he was a friend and correspondent of poet Alexander Pope, and dramatists John Gay and William Congreve.

Image right: Engraved portrait of Swift

He kept up to date with literary trends and purchased books by contemporary authors. In 1728 a young French author living in London published a new version of his historical poem in French, called La Henriade, written in praise of King Henri IV of France.  François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778) published his poem by subscription and the subscription list reveals his important patrons and supporters. Swift was a friend and correspondent of Voltaire’s, they were probably introduced by their mutual friend Alexander Pope. When Swift intended to visit France in June 1727 Voltaire wrote letters of introduction to the Comte de Morville, secretary of state, and Monsieur de Maisons, ‘both desirous and worthy of yr acquaintance’. Voltaire was an admirer of Swift’s work and in 1728 he wrote ‘the more I read your works, the more I am ashamed of mine’. (The correspondence of Jonathan Swift edited by Harold Williams)

La Henriade by Voltaire

La Henriade title page (click to enlarge)

In December 1727 Voltaire had written to Swift requesting him to encourage Irish readers to subscribe to the forthcoming publication, ‘can I make bold to intreat you to make some use of yr interest in Ireland about some subscriptions for the henriade, which is almost ready and does not come out yet for want of little help the subscriptions will be but one guinea in hand’. This was an expensive purchase, but many Irish subscriptions were gathered by Swift. By March 1728 La Henriade was published, Swift is listed as a subscriber to the book as is George Berkeley, William Congreve, Lord Carteret, the Lord Lieutenant, and many of the nobility and gentry of Great Britain and Ireland. Swift was well able to read French and some of his correspondence is in French. He spoke in French with the Huguenot clergy who ministered from the Lady Chapel in St Patrick’s Cathedral.

List of subscribers to La Henriade

List of subscribers to La Henriade including Rev. Dean Swift (click to enlarge)

When Swift’s library was sold after his death in 1745 La Henriade is among his collection, as well as Voltaire’s An essay upon the civil wars of France, translated into English and published in Dublin in 1728, and The history of Charles XII, King of Sweden, published in London in 1732.

An Essay upon the Civil Wars of France

An Essay upon the Civil Wars of France by Voltaire (click to enlarge)

 

The Swift and Dublin exhibition will run in the Dublin Room at Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street until 25 February 2017.

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The Swift and Dublin exhibition will run in the Dublin Room at Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street until 25 February 2017.

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